Payne’s Community news ends 72-year run

The final edition of Payne's Community News on Center radio station KDET signed off for the last time Saturday, April 30. The hometown news program started by Rex and Phabrice Payne in 1950 spanned three generations of the Payne family.

The local radio station that broadcast Payne's Community News six days a week for all of those years was just a year older than the program itself.

Billie Sue Payne announced the program's end Friday, April 29 on Facebook, briefly recapping the show's history and thanking loyal listeners and sponsors.

On August 19, 2021, Rob Payne (Billie Sue and Vance Payne's son) shared his oral history with the Center Noon Lion's club of Payne's Community News and the Payne family business, Payne and Payne Hardware. Or, as it was better known, "the Big Red Hardware Store in downtown Center, on the corner and on the square."

The following, compiled from portions of Payne's narrative that day, is shared to commemorate the end of an era in Center radio programming and one family's dedication to the community.

"I'm going to tell you where Payne's Community News came from," Rob began. "So, Payne and Payne hardware, if you notice that building, it's red. But you may remember one time when they sandblasted the courthouse and a bit of the Payne building. The bricks were the same kind of brick. And the best we can tell (the Payne building) was built about 1895.

"There was a coffin-making business upstairs and a furniture business in it," he continued. "But in 1915, Walter William Payne and his son decided to open a business ... as Payne and Payne Hardware. Really, Walter William Payne didn't have a whole lot to do with it. The son ran it. So, Robert Vance Payne and his wife Lizzie lived in the house where Chicken Express is now. That house was torn down, but that house, the Lizzie Payne house as it was known, stood there for a long time.

"Lizzie didn't do much with the business," Rob said. "Vance ran it." In 1929, he was up on a ladder one day getting something off a shelf, Rob said, and fell, hitting his head on a cast-iron stove. He died from the injury.

"They had two sons," said Rob. "Rex and Cranford. Rex was at school in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and had to come home to take over the business. He was born in 1906."

"Back in the late 20s," Rob said, "Appliances were (new). Most people were just getting (electric power). So, Hotpoint and GE would have people come around and demonstrate them. And this woman came from GE; her name was Phabrice Montgomery from Muskogee, Oklahoma. She demonstrated appliances, and she cooked biscuits. She came to Payne and Payne Hardware, demonstrated appliances, and caught Rex's eye.

"They married in 1932," said Rob, "And it was always the joke that she thought she was marrying a successful businessman, and he thought he was marrying a good cook."

According to Rob, they had two children, Lee Gayle Payne and Robert Vance Payne. "My dad," said Rob. "Rex and Phabrice ran the hardware store through tough times, through the depression and the war." Rob related how rationing made getting merchandise for the store hard to obtain. "You couldn't get some things," he said, "But (Rex) would get a little bit here and there, then make deals to get other things. He became known for having stuff that people needed and couldn't get anywhere else.

"Then in the 60s," Rob continued, "My dad graduated college and joined the business. And then he married Billie Sue in 1964, and she was a mom and worked in the business as well."

Noting that his grandfather passed away in 1973 and his grandmother in 1982, Rob said his father decided to remodel the store sometime after that. "Mom was running the Outdoor Store. They did some remodeling and kept things going, but as businesses and the Center square changed, they realized they would have to change or close. Rob said they made the tough decision that it was time to close in 1996.

"So that's where I'm gonna start Payne's Community News," Rob said. "But we have to go back (to when Center broadcasting) was formed and opened in 1949, and (the station’s founders) were looking for a community news program for the radio station. They came to Rex and Phabrice and said, 'Hey, would you be interested in sponsoring a show like that?" According to Rob, they agreed.

"They came back a few days later," according to Payne, "And said, 'You know, would you be interested in not just sponsoring it, but maybe delivering it too? And in 1950, Payne's Community News went on the air. We've been on the radio consistently ever since. That's maybe 71 years? It was on twice a day, and Rex and Phabrice delivered it from Center Broadcasting Studios."

Rob asked if anyone in the Lion's club audience knew where the first KDET station was located. The answer was on Austin Street behind the current Light and Champion newspaper offices in the building where the newspaper's pressroom is today.

(Editor's note: The original KDET offices remain in that building today, including the broadcast booth with a large window for visitors in the lobby to view on-the-air personnel.)

"And then," Rob continued, "They would go to the radio station there to deliver a radio show twice a day. The first time on the air was 7:45 a.m. 'drive time' when people were driving to work. It was community news, and the advertising was sponsored by the hardware store and the gift shop.

"The other drive time was five in the afternoon," Rob said. "So twice a day, Rex and Phabrice delivered it. I don't know much about their delivery, but I do know that when dad was growing up and joined the business and started (delivering the news with them), that's when it kind of got fun.

"They later moved the radio show to my grandmother's gift shop in the Payne building so she could deliver it there. She had a stand, a big podium and a high stool, and my grandmother would get up on the stool behind the podium. On the front of it was 'Payne's Community News.' Because it wasn't just on the radio, Center got a cable TV channel and they set up a camera in the gift shop. So, there she was … her own cable TV show you could not only listen to but see her."

Rob related how his dad joined the business and started doing some of what he called "dog and pony shows" and having some laughs. "And apparently sometimes my grandmother …, "said Rob, "Now she had news to tell people, she had been given her 15 minutes, and she didn't have a lot of time which my granddad and my dad kind of cut into.

"Rex passed away in '73," said Rob. "And my grandmother kept doing the show until she passed away in 1982. They had cut out the afternoon show; they still had the 7:45 show. And dad took it over.

"He died in 2007," said Rob. "And at that point, I had been doing the show some. I came in on Saturdays, let him sleep late. So once dad passed away, I decided to do the show."

Payne said that after the store closed in '96, they secured sponsors. "In fact, (we secured) quite a number of sponsors that are sponsoring the show today, folks in this room who are original sponsors."

"We had moved the radio show from the gift shop to (Vance's) desk," Ron said. "And then the camera played out, so he was just doing a live show from there. Then the connections got bad, and it wasn't worth fixing. And so, dad would go to the radio station and deliver the show there."

Payne said he delivered the program live until he started teaching school, when it was recorded on a cassette tape. "I would record the show … and give it to "Squirrely" (KDET on-air broadcaster James Paul Wilson), dropped it off in the morning before I went to school, and Squirrely would play it."

He also explained how technology changed, making it easier by not being in the studio every morning. In addition, through computers and emailing mp3 files, technology made the show easier to do as the years went by.

It also allowed for remote broadcasts during vacations, and the recording of Saturday’s show on Friday to meet the station’s needs at one point.

“And if you want to listen from the top of a Pyramid in Egypt,” Rob said, “You can listen to it because it's transmitted on the TuneIn app, which is free. Which is how I actually get it at home.”

"So, Payne's Community News continues today supported by local businesses, and the community," he said. After spending time answering questions, he ended his civic club program with, "See you on the radio."

Payne's Community News stepped into history last week when the program's final broadcast ended just over eight months later.

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